Veronica Johnson: School Nutrition Cook, Starr Elementary School, New Richmond, Wisconsin
Amidst the organized chaos of meal service for over 500 eager and hungry students, you'll find a remarkable individual whose journey from a server to a cook spans more than a decade. Meet Veronica Johnson, the vibrant individual orchestrating not just meals but also moments that shape young lives.
Over ten years ago, Veronica started as a server and cashier with the school district before joining the cooking team a few years back. Now, as a cook at Starr Elementary, she stands at the forefront of nourishing the minds and bodies of the school's students.
Veronica says one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is witnessing the children's smiles as they enjoy their meals. “Being able to make kids happy through the food we serve also makes me happy, and that’s really what it’s all about,” she said. Veronica describes how she cherishes the opportunity to see the students she served years ago while catering events like the high school prom. At this year’s dance, she got to see how her former students have grown, and many greeted her with kind memories and hugs. She happily speaks about the sense of fulfillment she gets from contributing to their lives.
Part of Veronica's inspiration comes from her admiration for her boss, Bobbie Guyett, whose dedication and care for the job serve as a beacon of motivation. The camaraderie among the entire team fuels her passion for trying new things and pushing herself beyond her comfort zone. She says, “I absolutely love my job. I love walking into a group of coworkers who are fun and make things exciting for the kids.” Colleagues describe Veronica as funny, sweet, and caring. These traits all come to life when she interacts with the children, effortlessly bringing joy and fun into their daily routines.
In the pursuit of making mealtime an exciting experience, Veronica and her team are always looking for ways to increase cafeteria participation. Innovative initiatives like "Star of the Month" and "Try it Tuesday" have been game-changers. "Star of the Month" celebrates students who exhibit kindness and respect, fostering a positive atmosphere in the cafeteria. And "Try it Tuesday" introduces students to new foods like butternut squash and beets, aiming to expand their palates and nutritional knowledge.
Veronica takes pride in incorporating as much scratch cooking as possible into the menu at Starr Elementary. She also makes a concerted effort to bring in healthier options and accommodate dietary needs, including gluten-free alternatives. Her team actively sources local produce, like beef and apples, supporting the community and promoting sustainable practices. And supporting that diverse menu, Veronica also serves many cereal options from General Mills Foodservice along with whole grain-rich muffins — which the students truly love.
Behind the scenes, Veronica and her colleagues are more than just cooks; they create a nurturing environment where students not only receive nourishment but also learn, grow, and embrace kindness. She helped implement a “share cart” where students can place food items from the school meals for others to take as needed. It’s a tremendous sharing opportunity and helps grow their sense of community.
In the bustling kitchen of Starr Elementary, Veronica stands as a guiding example of positivity, filling stomachs and hearts, one delicious meal at a time. Her story is not just about cooking; it's a testament to the profound impact individuals can have when they put their heart into their work.
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